Last week I wrote about the differences between writers’ retreats, workshops, and conferences; how to choose between the three; and why you should go. Maybe I’ve convinced you to give one of the three a try. Great! But how can you make the most of that experience?
Here are 15 ways:
- Pick one that fits your goals &/or genre.
- Research speakers beforehand. Check out their websites, blogs, books, etc.
- Bring and trade business cards/illustrator postcards. At some conferences, I’ve traded lots of cards, and at others I’ve traded very few, if any. But, it’s better to have the cards and not need them than vice-versa.
- Wear layers. Conference rooms can either be very hot or very cold.
- Look for past years’ photos of the conference online to see how attendees dress. Attire may be casual, business-casual, or business. Some conferences will also have a formal banquet and/or a themed costume mixer/dinner.
- Be friendly and interested in others. Mingle. Introduce yourself, even if it’s only to the person next to you in the lunch line.
- Talk with the speakers. But, give them privacy when they’re on the phone or in the bathroom.
- Refrain from pushing manuscripts on other attendees or speakers. Conferences are for education and connections, usually not sales. Focus on what you can learn! However, if you find someone compatible, you might agree to become critique partners.
- Volunteer to help the conference committee. It is easier to get to know others who are active in the organization, as well as the speakers, if you spend time with them and show you are willing to help and to learn.
- Pay for a critique. Conference critiques are fairly inexpensive. Listen, ask questions to clarify, don’t ask to submit the whole thing, and don’t argue.
- Have realistic expectations. It is very rare for a writer to make a sale at a conference. More likely agents or editors might ask the writer to email a manuscript or a partial manuscript to them. And it’s even more likely for writers to realize their manuscripts need more work before they are ready for submission.
- Make your own schedule to fit your needs. For example, if you are writing and you’re on a roll, feel free to skip a session to keep writing. It’s your conference–make it work for you. Also, some conferences sell recordings of the sessions. It’s worth it to buy them to listen to any you miss, or to re-listen to later.
- Make a goal (perhaps to talk with three people, or to find out how to write a query letter, or even to talk to an editor without freaking out). But stay open to the unexpected good things (like talking to the person next to you and learning they love the same books you do, or getting an autograph and maybe even some encouragement from a well-published author, etc.).
- Be prepared to experience a range of emotions. You might experience information overload. You might be very excited to make friends with people who love the same books you do and who love to write. You might be very excited to learn how to improve your writing or to learn the ins and outs of the business. You might not be able to sleep because your mind is racing. Or you might despair because you realize your writing isn’t as good as you thought it was. You might be crushed when you don’t receive that hoped-for contract. So, be prepared to experience both the roller coaster of emotional highs and lows. And, be prepared for the let-down when you get home and you deal with exhaustion and your regular life. REMEMBER, IT’S NORMAL.
- After the conference, submit manuscripts, send thank-you notes to speakers and conference planners, and follow-up on social media or email with all your new contacts.
What are other tips I should include?
One of the things I love about writing is that writers can self-educate. We don’t have to earn a degree, or a license, or complete a residency to write.
I don’t mean that writers only teach themselves and never learn from other teachers and writers. And I don’t mean that we shouldn’t pursue formal education. Those are wonderful things!
What I mean is that if we want to improve their writing and learn about the business of publishing, we can do much of the legwork ourselves. We can read excellent books similar to our writing style, we can study books about writing, we can practice writing on our own. We can also find tons of help on the internet, and we can join various writers’ groups.
Another thing we can do is attend writer’s conferences, workshops, and retreats.
10 reasons to go to a conference, workshop, or retreat:
- To learn writing skills.
- To learn about the business-side & market trends.
- To get books autographed by your favorite authors.
- To bring home a list of books to read.
- To meet editors, art directors, and agents, find out what they’re looking for and realize they are people, too.
- To meet people who like to do same thing and won’t think you’re crazy when you say your main character won’t behave.
- To make new friends and form critique partnerships/groups.
- To get a critique by an industry pro.
- To gain access to publishing houses that are closed to submissions.
- To be inspired.
Differences between conferences, workshops, retreats:
Conferences—In general, conferences tend to be open to all writers, from beginners to multi-published authors. Some have hundreds of attendees–some are smaller, some are larger. There are usually multiple speakers, and maybe even break out sessions, intensives, pitch sessions, critiques, award banquets, autograph parties, and lots of networking. Conferences can be very generalized, with something for every writer. Or they can be specialized by focusing on a certain genre.
Workshops—These tend to be smaller, more specialized, and hands-on. For example, the workshop might focus on writing picture books. There might be fewer speakers, and attendees might be required to bring a manuscript to work on. Expect to have class sessions, but also expect time during the classes to practice on your manuscript. There may also be times to share your work with each other.
Retreats—These are usually getaway times for writers to focus on their work-in-progress. Retreats tend to be very small and to be at places that promote creativity, rest, and productivity–interesting that the same place can promote all three. The faculty may teach some intensive workshops, do individual critiques, or lead critique groups. There will probably be lots of time worked into the schedule for alone work, but also time for socializing with the other attendees.
How to decide what type to attend:
I’ve gone to all three types and have loved them all. What you choose depends on what you want to learn or work on. It depends on your personality. It depends on your time and money budgets, as well as your family and work situations.
If you’re new to writing, go to a fairly local general writers conference to soak up information on a broad variety of topics, but especially writing-related topics.
If you’re working on a writing project and want to improve in specific areas–such as characters or plots, try a workshop.
If you’re really invested in writing projects and a writing career, try a retreat.
If you’re ready to investigate and/or pursue publication, go to a conference that has editors and agents on the faculty.
Do your homework. Some conferences are focused on the craft side of writing. Some are focused on the business side of writing. Some are a mix of the two. Some conferences are for writers, some are for booksellers/publishers, etc.
There are also conferences for almost any type of writing you can think of–mystery, romance, Christian, non-fiction, children’s, educational, speculative (science fiction, fantasy, paranormal), etc. Many of these conferences are part of writing organizations, such as Romance Writers of America, American Christian Fiction Writers, or the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.
Look for local and regional conferences, etc., too. They may not have the large number of big-name speakers, but they might have a big-name speaker or two, and it will cost a lot less to go to. Also, the faculty/attendee ratio may be much lower, so it’s more likely for you to have a conversation with a speaker at a smaller conference.
How to locate conferences, workshops, and retreats:
- Check online at the websites of writer’s organizations.
- Use the search engines to find writer’s conferences, etc.
- Read the blogs or social media of authors, agents, and editors. They often mention conferences, etc. they will be attending or speaking at.
- Ask other writers what conferences they’ve been to.
Finally, if you just can’t get away from home, work, family, or you hate being in even small crowds, or you need to keep your costs down, try an online webinar, workshop, or conference. I’ve done these, too, and found them to be helpful, as well as time-efficient and cost-efficient.
What conferences, workshops, or retreats have you attended? What kind do you prefer? What other benefits have you experienced by going to a conference, etc.?